All sorts of non-dance stuff went crazy this past week. I feel like it knocked me a little out of my gourd. I’m hoping that all the issues get squashed soon. I don’t like the feeling of being out on the vine like this.
…did these pumpkin jokes do it for you?
Moving on. Let’s get right into it and talk about Latin Technique first! Much like last week, this week in class was all about Lord Junior working on some of the new choreography that was put into Veep’s Latin routines to help her (and him too!) memorize everything. The two of them are planning on competing at an event early next month to debut these new routines, so Lord Junior wants to be sure that they get as much practice with the new sections in as possible so they don’t forget anything. This week we looked at the new opening section to Veep’s Cha-Cha routine.
The routine starts off with both partners facing each other in a one-handed hold, the Lead having his weight on the left leg and the Follower on the right. Once the music starts, you do a rock step backward and go into a Forward Lock. When you get to the end of the Lock Step and do another rock step going forward, the Lead would take the Follower’s other hand, then go into a Slip Chasse. However, instead of bringing your feet together at the end of the Slip Chasse, you would twist 90° clockwise and take a step to the side. While doing that, the lady would be doing a Forward Lock, but as the Lead rotates he would let go with his left hand while continuing to hang on with the right, which leads the lady to finish in a side-by-side position with the Lead.
After this, the rest of the opening is pretty much all the work of the Follower while the Lead gets off easy. Over the next measure in the music, the Follower would compress into the Lead’s right side momentarily before pushing off and striking a line with their right arm up in the air. Next the Follower would do a Three-Step Turn, rolling in across the Lead’s right arm. He would curl his body slightly around to let her through, then do an in-place chasse action that turned our bodies 180° while the lady does another Three-Step Turn to roll out across the right arm again. You’ve probably done one of these roll-in, roll-out moves before in a number of other dance styles, so it should be pretty easy to picture the idea. We did two in a row to get the lady back to the place she was when she started.
On the next measure of music the Follower would repeat the compression action into the line that she did before the first roll-in, and then we would roll her in again. This time however, the lady would take an extra syncopated step as she passed in front of the Lead’s body before she started to roll out. The Lead would let go of her completely as she rolled out, staying in place and not rotating this time, while the Follower would go into a New Yorker. As the Follower hit the line for the New Yorker, the Lead would reach across with his right arm to grasp the Follower’s left forearm, basically to keep her from flying away from us if she went into the New Yorker with a lot of power.
At the end, the Lead would pull the lady back onto her right leg and give her a little spin so that she could do one last Three-Step Turn. The Lead would do a basic chasse moving to the right at the same time, and we should end up facing one another with the Lead’s weight on the right leg and the Follower’s weight on the left, ready to continue the routine. That’s where we stopped things that evening, since the next section of the routine was actually made up of pieces that Veep already knew.
The most interesting conversation I had this week in regards to dance happened on Tuesday night. This may be a lengthy discussion, so sit back and enjoy if the matter interests you.
As you might have guessed, on Tuesday night I had a lesson with my coach Lord Dormamu. The lesson part itself covered Waltz, Foxtrot and Tango, and we talked about a lot of the finer, nitpicky points that are needed to keep moving those styles forward toward the next levels. It was all fascinating stuff that I could spend this entire post talking about if I wanted to, but the thing that really set my mind into a tizzy actually came about because of a question that I asked him right at the end of our lesson that was completely unrelated to anything that we had talked about during the whole lesson prior.
Right at the end of the lesson, as we were sitting down to ‘do the paperwork’ so to speak, Lord Dormamu was telling Sparkledancer and I that next time we got together we would look at our Quickstep routine primarily, since we didn’t get to it that night. The mention of Quickstep made me think of Standard Technique class the week before, where Lord Junior had shown me a full Natural Turn in Quickstep that has a second half to the figure I had never seen. So I asked Lord Dormamu about it, and whether or not I would ever use the full version of the figure for anything. He told me that I would in the future, but not yet. It was one of those ‘only when you’re ready, young grasshopper’ moments.
But then I mentioned that Lord Junior had said that no one ever does the second half of the figure, and I wanted to know if he himself had ever used it before in his days as a competitor. That led him off on a wild tangent for the next fifteen minutes where he went off on the way Pro/Am is done in this country, and how much the traditional rules are overlooked for the sake of making students feel like they are progressing faster than they actually should, all in the name of having them continue to spend money on taking lessons and going to competitions instead of putting in the hard work of actually learning to do the dances properly.
Apparently, according to Lord Dormamu, it is a rare thing in the US for instructors to work with their students on Closed Gold, especially in International Standard and International Latin where the syllabus figures are so clearly defined. He says that most instructors feel that the figures and techniques required are “too difficult” for their student because they push the student through Bronze and Silver so fast, so what a lot of instructors will do is to move their students from Closed Silver all the way up to Open Silver, bypassing Closed Gold and Open Bronze completely. This allows them to put off having to teach the student the figures and techniques from Closed Gold for at least another year, if they ever actually decide to go back to it at all.
Supposedly this is done to help the student think that they are ‘moving up’ in the competition world while avoiding the things that would potentially frustrate them, for fear that the student might quit out of frustration if they tried to make them do the work. Lord Dormamu told me that this practice of having students skip levels got to be so commonplace that some large competitions in the Pro/Am arena had stopped even offering Closed Gold rounds entirely decades ago, because instructors stopped signing up for them.
The effect of this, Lord Dormamu thinks, is that you have a weakening of the skills of both the Professionals and the Amateurs in the US because the Professionals would rather put off doing the hard stuff until later to keep making money. Not only are the students not being pushed to learn the material, but if an instructor has no students working on the material then they themselves may not be practicing and keeping their skills up in that material, so doing this can cause the instructor to get rusty. A big problem that he sees though is that a lot of the “really cool” figures in the Open-level world use pieces from the Closed Gold syllabus. He specifically mentioned things like the Hover Corte, Fallaway Reverse and Slip Pivot and the Bounce Fallaway as examples.
Not studying these figures and their associated techniques in Closed Gold means that the student will oftentimes see those techniques for the first time when they get their higher Open-level routines at the Open-Beyond-Gold levels. If the student didn’t learn the techniques, and the instructor let him/herself get rusty because they have few high-level students who ever reach that level, then the Pro/Am couple is suddenly at a huge disadvantage during a competition. All it takes is for a couple of students to enter the events who have mastered the techniques in Closed Gold, and suddenly the rest of the competitors who were allowed to skip up into the Open-level rounds are marked poorly in comparison. Lord Dormamu told me that when he is judging events, his eyes can pick out the differences in people who have mastered the concepts and those that were just moved up into the Open category and weren’t really ready to do so quite yet.
Since Lord Dormamu is not originally from this country, he was raised in a different competitive landscape. When he was on his competition journey to becoming a world champion, his coaches made him compete in Closed Bronze, Closed Silver and Closed Gold, and train hard enough to do well in his events, before he was even allowed to toy with the idea of moving away from the syllabus into the Open-level world. That is the way he is training all of his students as well, whether they be part of an Amateur duo (like me) or one of his Pro/Am ladies. He refuses to allow any of us to start working on Open-level routines until we manage to complete Closed Gold to his satisfaction.
To that end, Lord Dormamu told me that he actually had to push for the organizers of one of the biggest Pro/Am competitions in the country to add Closed Gold to their list of offered events, all because he had a student who moved up to compete at that level. After hounding the organizers for a long time, they finally relented and added the rounds for him. The events ended up being small, with only seven couples signing up, but I guess it was the first time in almost forty years that they had even run Closed Gold rounds at that particular competition.
(His student obviously swept first place across the board in the Closed Gold at that competition…)
Now, to pull this rant of Lord Dormamu’s back to show why it intrigued me so much… both Sparkledancer and I get asked a lot why we are still competing in Bronze events, even though we no longer look like the average Bronze-level dancers. People are curious what the reasoning is that we remain behind even though many of the other people that we have been in competitions against have already moved up to the next level. When I try to explain to them that our coach is holding us at our current level until he is sure that our fundamentals are rock solid, I get either wary agreement or replies that I could do so well in the higher levels, so there is no reason to hang out in Bronze any longer.
I guess that it is hard for people to accept that we would purposefully pay our coach to hold us down. Outside of the franchise studio environment, there really is no ‘graduation’ ceremony that one has to accomplish before they can move up to the next level. As Amateurs, Sparkledancer and I could sign up to dance in whatever events we wanted. If we wanted to jump from Closed Bronze International Standard straight to the highest Championship levels in American Rhythm, no one would question us when we signed up. They might question us when we got off the floor at the competition after watching us dance terribly, but that’s a different matter entirely. So because there is no set point to confirm a competitor is ready, a lot of people just decide to jump up to the next level after they get bored dancing at the lower level, whether they have actually mastered the material at that level or not.
There is one couple in particular that comes to mind. I have competed against them a number of times, and talked with them about other competitions that they have done that I didn’t sign up for. The female from this Amateur pair loves to talk about all the first place ribbons/stickers/medals they have won when she is telling everyone about their results. What she doesn’t mention is that they mostly dance unopposed because they are in that weird limbo age category where there are so few competitors. When they do get on the floor with other couples, they don’t do nearly as well. And then, I think that she secretly doesn’t like me, because all the times they have competed directly against Sparkledancer and I, we have always crushed them when the results come in.
The two of them decided to move up to dance Silver this month. It wasn’t a recommendation from their coach, they just decided on their own that they no longer wanted to dance the simple stuff in Bronze, and there is nothing holding them back. So this month they have been working on adding the new figures from the Silver syllabus into their routines in hopes of being ready to compete again in December of January. That example I think illustrates what Lord Dormamu is talking about – people decide for themselves that they want to move on because of boredom, and the coach that trains them doesn’t stop them because he wants to keep the money for their lessons coming in.
Is there a good fix for this? I don’t know. The franchise studio system seems to have things worked out pretty well, where students have to ‘graduate’ from one level to another. However, that kind of system would be nearly impossible to implement in the world outside of the franchises where every studio uses a disparate system for tracking their students’ progress. The bigger dance organizations have ‘point systems’ to help track progress and prevent more experienced dancers from sandbagging the competition, but tracking the points is done primarily through the honor system rather than through some centralized electronic system, so I know people who have fudged their numbers so they can compete at whatever proficiency levels they want because they like to win.
As for me, I guess I am content just following Lord Dormamu’s master plan, rather than moving up at whatever pace I could get away with. Sure, sometimes it makes things a bit boring for me, but if I go back through my notes I can see the long-term progress that training in this way has allowed me to make. Plus, the progress plan he has me on is tracking really well to the proficiency point plan of the organizations that I do the most competitions in. By the time I reach the maximum number of proficiency points I could carry, Lord Dormamu has said that he plans to move me up because I will be ready anyway. Knowing that the end is in sight keeps me content with where I am currently.
Also, as I’m sure you guessed, I was told that night that I will have to go through Closed Gold. He told me to look forward to it, because he thinks it will be fun for all of us. 😉
One last quick story, then I’m done, I swear… we had a special treat this week in Standard Technique class, a treat that hopefully lasts longer than one week. There was a random guy wandering around in the studio when I got there for class. I didn’t think anything of it at first because I assumed that he was there for the Hustle class that is usually taught on Wednesdays on the other side of the Electric Dance Hall. But as Lord Junior came over to start Standard Technique class up, the gentleman followed him. The surprising thing was, it was actually a guy that I knew! Someone that I had even picked out a name and a Lego Figure for in the past! How convenient is that? Let’s all welcome back The Professor to the scene!
It took me a bit of searching to find what I wrote about the last time I saw him, but for those that don’t remember this guy, he is a highly sought after dance fitness teacher in my area of the Dance Kingdom. According to Lord Junior, The Professor recently decided that he wanted to take that next step and start working on becoming a ballroom dance instructor, so he went to Lord Junior to ask for assistance. Being the nice guy that he is, Lord Junior said that he would help train him… but rather than start out simply, he decided to throw him to the wolves and have him join us in Standard Technique class.
Now what we ended up doing in class was really simple as far as the figures are concerned. We looked at Waltz, and went through a Natural Turn, an Open Impetus, a Chasse from Promenade Position, and then a Quick Open Reverse Turn to finish things off. All fairly simple figures that most of the people in class had seen before – except for the new guy. The more experienced dancers in International Standard were told to focus on other technical aspects in the dance since the figures were simple, namely the footwork, posture, frame, timing and alignment. Those points sound familiar, right?
The Professor was told to just stay alive for his first night out on the floor with us, and I think he managed to do just that. Sparkledancer told me after class that his frame was really loose, and both she and Veep were backleading him through the figures when they danced with him, but otherwise he did OK. I could tell that he was thinking really hard about what he was trying to do though, even if I didn’t dance with him. All the other times that I’ve ever seen The Professor he has been very bubbly and extroverted, but throughout the class that night he was rather subdued and looked very thoughtful, watching both Lord Junior and I closely when we were going through his steps.
I hope that this first class didn’t scare him away. It would be nice to have another guy who shows up regularly to help out in Standard Technique. Also, I secretly hope that Lord Junior tells him to start coming to Latin Technique on Mondays as well. I wonder how long the study period is for someone to become a ballroom instructor? Maybe I’ll get lucky and he’ll be working with us in class for the next several months or more. That would be awesome!
It’s finally here! The big weekend in October! The one where everyone throws dance parties and we’re allowed to wear costumes! It’s my favorite. I don’t know if you caught on to that at all. This year I know for sure that I will be going to the party out at the Electric Dance Hall on Saturday night. There are a couple of options for Friday night that I have heard of, so assuming that I can get out of work early enough to make it to a dance party, I will try to choose the most fun one of those to go out to as well.
Also, I’m super excited about my costume. It started out as a joke that I made with a friend of mine, but then I decided to make it a reality. No one at any of the dances I potentially go to will know the story behind my costume, but luckily it will still be funny when they see me in it even without knowing the joke. It’s just that hilarious.
Where will you be going to dance for Halloween this year? Are you planning on being anywhere that I’ll be? I mean, you won’t know if I’m actually there, since I’ll be in costume, but if you do know that it’s me maybe we could high-five or something. I hope to see you out on the dance floor!